Title image via Kevin L. Dorsey
Courtesy of North Carolina A&T Athletics
Winner N.C. A&T 9-23
USC Upstate 27-10
W: Barkhimer, Joey (2-6) L: KELLY, ALYSSA (17-5)
SPARTANBURG, SC – The North Carolina A&T softball team used a three-run blast off the bat of freshman left fielder Sierra Baldwin to earn an upset win over one of the best teams in the Big South Conference, USC Upstate, 3-2 in the first game of a doubleheader played at Upstate’s Cyrill Stadium. The Aggies lost the second game of the doubleheader, 3-1.
After the split, the Aggies finished the day at 9-24. USC Upstate, who came away from the doubleheader with a 28-10 record, has won at least 40 games in nine of the past 12 seasons. Two of those seasons were cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. Last season when both teams were members of the Big South, the Spartans swept the three-game series between the two teams, outscoring the Aggies 25-0 with only one of the games going past the fifth inning.
But on Tuesday, A&T starter Joey Barkhimer (W, 2-6) and freshman reliever Amaya Kearse combined to hold the Spartans to five hits. The duo did not surrender an earned run, and Barkhimer recorded four strikeouts.
Baldwin gave Barkhimer and Kearse all the help they needed in the fourth inning. First baseman Kiara Richards helped to set everything up by opening the frame with a walk. Shortstop Makayla Layton then singled to left center to put runners at first and third. After catcher Camryn Caldwell advanced both runners into scoring position by grounding out to second, Baldwin stepped in and connected on her first career home run to give the Aggies a 3-0 lead.
Kearse entered the game in the Upstate fourth and gave up a leadoff double to Casey Goguts before retiring the Spartans in order. A&T loaded the bases in its fifth against Upstate starter Alyssa Kelly (L, 17-5) before Caldwell popped out to end the threat. Kearse continued to deal in the fifth. After surrendering a leadoff walk to Alanna Deal, Kearse again retired the Spartans in order.
But Kearse did run into trouble in the sixth. Again, Kearse allowed the leadoff batter to reach as she walked Tiffany Dominique. Goguts reached on a fielder’s choice that eliminated Dominique from the base paths before Summer Johnson singled to put runners at first and second.
Peyton Darnell popped out for the second out in the inning before Celeste Delorenzo hit a clutch two-out RBI double to left center to cut the Aggies lead to 3-2. Deal popped out to send the game into the seventh. A&T stranded a runner at first in its seventh, putting Kearse back in the circle in the seventh.
The Upstate leadoff batter reached again when Kearse hit pinch-hitter Carson Shaw with a 1-2 pitch. Sarah Price’s sacrifice bunt moved pinch-runner Madi Lanoux to second. Denver Lauer’s groundout sent Lanoux to third before the game ended on a Dominique fly out to center field.
Jai Deese went 2-for-4 in Game 1. But in the second game, the Aggies were held to three hits, with one of those hits coming on a Deese home run in the first to give the Aggies a 1-0 advantage. It was Deese’s fourth home run of the season and the fifth of her career.
But the Spartans answered with two runs in their first as Dominique doubled home Johnson and Shaw brought her home on an RBI single to give Upstate a 2-1 lead. The Spartans added a run in the fourth as Maddie Drerup (W, 10-4) pitched a complete-game, three-hitter. She gave up only one run, walking three and striking out four.
Kayla Douglas (L, 2-7) started Game 2 for A&T and pitched 3.1 innings. Sharla Kirkpatrick pitched 2.2 innings of scoreless softball, where she did not give up a hit or walk a batter. A&T travels to New Jersey for a three-game CAA series against the Monmouth Hawks.